: 4 ways clutter costs you — like renting self-storage units for thousands of dollars a year


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You might’ve heard the saying that what you own ends up owning you. Well, it also ends up costing you – and in today’s economy, that tab is getting even higher. 

More than one in 10 Americans rent storage space to hold their excess stuff, paying an average of $165.55 a month in June, which was about 20% more than what they paid in 2019, the Wall Street Journal reports. In fact, America’s storage addiction has helped public storage and warehouse leasing grow into a $35.4 billion industry this year, according to IBISWorld market research. 

But we’re not just talking about the rising cost of self-storage units. Have you ever stared at a closet full of clothes, but still struggled to find something to wear to work or a special event? Or bought duplicates for things you didn’t realize you already had, because they were buried in the back of a crowded cupboard or cabinet? You’re not alone. One 2017 survey found that U.S. households were spending $2.7 billion a year replacing lost items. 

So here’s a look at four ways your clutter could be costing you, followed by some tips for freeing yourself from having too much stuff. 

1. You’re throwing thousands of dollars away on things just sitting in storage. 

As noted above, the average cost to house the stuff that doesn’t fit in your home runs more than $165 a month, which comes out to just under $2,000 a year. But that price can vary depending on location. Take New York City, for example; this MarketWatch author has a loved one who is spending more than $400 a month on their storage unit, which comes out to almost $5,000 a year. And MarketWatch columnist Charles Passy shares that his family spent roughly $10,000 on storage in NYC “for no reason other than I didn’t want to deal with my stuff.” That’s money that would be much better spent building an emergency fund or paying off debt, let alone investing or taking a well-deserved vacation. 

Read more: I spent $10,000 renting a storage unit, but finally learned my lesson

And even if you’re not paying for a self-storage unit, clutter could still be living rent-free in your home and taking up valuable real estate. Better Homes & Gardens actually puts a price tag on clutter, calculating that storing unused items in your home costs about $10 per square foot. 

2. Our storage units and extra stuff cost the environment, too.

This clutter isn’t just sapping your wallet; it’s draining our natural resources. There were almost 38,000 self-storage facilities and counting in the U.S. four years ago, according to Statista. And adding more of these sprawling storage facilities contributes to deforestation and habitat loss, while the electricity and climate control powering these places wastes a lot of energy that’s being used by “things” and not people directly. 

This study conducted by the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation found “80 billion BTUs of energy are embodied in a typical 50,000 square-foot commercial building, the equivalent of about 640,000 gallons of gasoline.” In other words, powering just one self-storage facility this size can equal the energy used in 656 homes per year.

Plus, most self-storage facilities are made out of concrete and steel, two of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions globally. 

But if handling a loved one’s estate or a botched moving schedule means you just can’t avoid storage, then there are also creative ways to make less of an environmental impact. One company, PeerStorage, matches people who need storage with owners of existing spaces that have extra room.

Consumerism also carries its own carbon footprint. Keep in mind that each product we buy accounts for roughly 6.3 times its weight in carbon emissions, on average, according to this academic study of goods’ life cycles. Those emissions are warming Earth and intensifying hurricanes that dump more damaging rain, or creating long stints of extreme-heat days, like this record-breaking summer. Together, our household purchases of goods and services account for between 26% and 45% of global greenhouse gas emissions. 

3. You’re wasting money buying stuff you already have. 

We’ve all probably been there: You’re out of toothpaste or razors, so you buy what you think you need – only to find two unopened tubes of toothpaste or a pack of razors already stuffed in the back of your bathroom cabinet. Or you buy a little black dress or a new suit to wear to a wedding … which is almost identical to the four other ones already hanging in your closet. You end up spending money you don’t need to spend. As noted above, a 2017 survey found that U.S. households were spending $2.7 billion dollars a year replacing lost items. And duplicate groceries, in particular, can lead to pricey food waste: Americans throw away more than $408 billion in food each year, according to Feeding America. 

The average American is hanging on to 23 items that they have absolutely no use for, according to a 2017 ClosetMaid survey. More than half said they were holding on to things for sentimental reasons, while a third admitted they were just putting off throwing things out.

So if you’re disorganized and drowning in stuff that you don’t use, then you’re more likely to buy things that you think you need, because you don’t know your own inventory. So it’s time to take stock of what you’ve got: What are your go-to essentials that you use all the time, as well as the things you never use that are just taking up space. Ditch the latter so that you can get a clear picture of what you actually need the next time you go shopping. 

4. Clutter can also take a toll on your mental health and productivity – especially if you’re working from home. 

There’s some truth to “tidy house, tidy mind” – and that goes for your workspace, too. 

The average employee wastes almost one week and up to $4,800 worth of time per year looking for lost items, Entrepreneur reports. And there’s plenty more research suggesting that clutter can impact mental health and productivity. Mess often leads to stress, since looking at all that extra stuff, feeling it, bumping into it, or even smelling it, causes our brains to work overtime, Psychology Today notes. Clutter can also distract us from work by drawing our attention away. A survey of 1,200 Americans conducted by the National Association of Productivity & Organizing Professionals found that more than a third of women surveyed, and one in five men, said that looking at how disorganized their home is makes them feel stressed. And more than half of women, and 45% of men, said they can’t concentrate on the work at hand if they’re seeing a disorganized home. 

But the good news is, decluttering can actually make you money.

MarketWatch columnist Charles Passy notes that when he cleared out his storage unit and sold some of his baseball cards, for example, he made $210. You can sell some of your stuff on the growing number of resale sites like Facebook Marketplace, Poshmark, ThredUp, OfferUp, LetGo, eBay and Craigslist. Look up the brand name and style or model of your item first, to get a read on how much this could be worth, to help pin down an asking price. Or, summertime is a prime time to host a yard sale or garage sale if you’ve got the outdoor space to sell in-person. 

Read more: How to net top dollar selling your stuff online while you declutter

And if you’re donating your unwanted items to charity, then get a receipt to put toward a tax deduction. Or if you’re not looking to get money back, then reuse sites and borrowing sites (like tool libraries) and thrift stores can help you match your “no longer wants” with someone who really does want or need them. 

So what can we do to help clear clutter and keep it away? 

First, cut yourself some slack. Even decluttering queen Marie Kondo has admitted that she’s ‘kind of given up’ on tidying up after having three kids. 

As for letting things go, you can follow Kondo’s advice of decluttering by category – going through the clothes, the shoes, the books, etc. – instead of by room, and only holding on to the items that truly “spark joy” for you. Or you can follow the “20-20” rule: If you could replace the item in 20 minutes for $20 or less, then it’s safe to let it go.

Read more (from 2017): Marie Kondo says this one thing could be holding you back from falling in love

And (from 2019): Are you tired of Marie Kondo’s ‘does it spark joy’ question? Here are 5 other ways to declutter

Next, stop yourself from simply buying a bunch of new stuff to replace the things you finally decluttered by following the “one in, one out” rule to curb impulse buying. That means, for every new item you bring into your home, you get rid of one thing to make room for it – which doesn’t have to be the same item. Want to pick up that sleek new pair of shoes? Then you have to get rid of an old pair (or something else, like a jacket that doesn’t fit right) collecting dust in your closet. 

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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